Newshawk: Dr. Kate (Kathy Galbraith)
Source: THIS magazine
Pubdate: May/June 1998
Author:  Nate Hendley
Editors note: Journalist Nate Hendley is a long time participant in the
Canadian Media Awareness Project and their email list - MATTALK:


How Conservatives Tuned In, Turned On And Took Over The Legalization Debate
In Canada

Patrick Basham's been thinking a lot about drugs lately, which is something
you can't really avoid when you live in Vancouver.  As Canada's opiate and
marijuana capital, Vancouver has the highest rate of HIV infection among
intravenous drug users in the Western world and some of the strongest pot
in North America.  It's also one of the few places in Canada where needle
drug users openly spike in the streets, especially in the squalid 40 square
blocks that make up the down town eastside.

Basham, who used to live near the eastside, recalls seeing people injecting
heroin and cocaine, "literally every eight in the morning, people
would be shooting up, making sales.  At the office, I'd tell people the
latest thing I was offered for sale."

Last fall, Basham attended a drug-policy conference organized by the Hoover
Institute, a prestigious American think-tank.  That conference combined
with his daily experience seeing addicts in his neighborhood, convinced him
that "something had to be done and soon."

"I used to believe the costs of legalization outweighed the benefits" he
recalls.  "Then I moved to the other side."

So Basham put together a recent one-day conference where speakers discussed
"Sensible Solutions to the Urban Drug Problem" and debated the merits of
legalization, decriminalization and harm reduction.  But despite all the
dope-talk, it was no West Coast hippie-fest.  That's because the conference
was sponsored by the Fraser Institute.  A hard-right B.C.-based policy
centre, the Fraser is better known for opposing the welfare state than
supporting progressive drug policy.

Basham, who works as a director of the institute's social affairs centre,
points out that all his organization is doing is playing catch-up with the
United States.  A number of American right-wing individuals and groups have
preached the legalization line for years.

Like the Fraser Institute, these right-wing reformers are less interested
in dropping acid than rescinding what they consider dangerously expanded
state powers, unclogging courts and saving money in incarceration costs.
But most rightist reformers are fueled by anti-government ideology, not any
sympathy for drug addicts, and some of their proposals seem as amazingly
awful as the Drug War itself.

Still, right-wingers do hold one major advantage over the type of people
who've populated the reform movement until recently.  When it comes to
talking about legal hash and heroin, conservatives in suits are generally
taken more seriously than tie-dyed hippies or liberals with mushy notions
of law and order. "The Fraser Institute is seen as a very creditable
organization." says Basham. "Which is one of the reasons we decided to hold
this conference.  We want to make drug legalization a creditable debate."

Marc Emery's also concerned about credibility, which is why he takes care
to keep his hair short, wear a suit jacket in public and talk intelligently
when pontificating on drug policy matters.  "When you're watching TV, and
it shows a bunch of hippies smoking pot in a public park, that's not likely
to impress many older viewers," he says.

In spite of his concerns about public image, Emery has little fear of
making a complete ass of himself if it helps the anti-Drug War cause.
Probably the nation's best-known drug activist, he's been kicked out of
courtrooms for heckling judges and handed out joints in front of court

A self-described "Ayn Rand stripe libertarian," Emery believes that
government "has no useful social purpose except to make people's lives more
miserable." He opposes unions, the welfare state, universal health care and
people who think it's immoral to make money off drugs.

Back in 1994, Emery opened a Vancouver shop called HempBC, a business that
aimed to be a head shop with a difference.  Emery's timing was good: by the
early nineties, drug law reform was slowly re-entering public consciousness
after lying dormant for more than a decade.

North America’s brief fling with drug reform- 11 U.S. states decriminalized
marijuana in the seventies and Canada seemed on the verge of doing the
same- died abruptly after Ronald Reagan was elected president. Reagan
ignited America's War on Drugs in 1981, and Canada followed suit three
years later with Brian Mulroney's election.

The Drug War was so pervasive by the time HempBC got off the ground that a
lot of the items Emery sold- such as pot growing books and magazines like
High Times- were technically illegal.  That didn't bother Emery much, and
last year he opened a companion business in Vancouver called the Cannabis
Cafe.  The cafe was North America's first Amsterdam-style hash bar, where
patrons could munch on veggie food and take advantage of vaporizers at
their tables should they feel the need to take a toke.

Emery grossed $3.5 million in sales last year and at one point employed 43
people at his HempBC store.  American journalists were so impressed they
put Emery on the cover of the Wall Street Journal and featured him in
Rolling Stone.

But Vancouver police were less impressed and raided HempBC twice.  This
spring, Emery, who is facing 17 pot-related charges, lost his business
license and was forced to sell the cafe and store to his employees.  Since
then, he's focused on selling marijuana seeds and publishing Cannabis
Canada magazine, the great White North's answer to High times.

Wildly optimistic, Emery predicts "medical marijuana will be decriminalized
this year....followed by full decriminalization a year later." The federal
liberals, however, don't seem to be on the same time line.  Last year, they
proclaimed the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Bill C-8) into law,
making a six-month jail term the maximum for simple marijuana possession.
The same bill allows police to seize property where a single pot plant is
found, and proscribes seven-year stretches for people caught with cocaine
or heroin.

Meanwhile, roughly 600,000 Canadians hold criminal records for pot
possession, which can make it impossible to cross the border or get certain
jobs.  And our government spends about half a billion a year on drug law
enforcement, with few signs of letting people like Emery run legal drug

Some federal politicians do support reform, but it's unlikely many would
have endorsed the platform Emery used during his 1996 mayoral bid. Emery
promised to turn Vancouver's welfare recipients into pot grower's, provided
they stop accepting social assistance benefits.  "Anyone can grow pot."
Emery notes.  "Invalids, old people.  we'd set them up."

Emery ended up in fifth place with 1500 votes.  Unsuccessful as a
politician, Emery's provided a far more valuable service for the reform
cause: by running HempBC and the Cannabis Cafe for as long as he did, he
gave Canada a glimpse at what post-Drug War society might look like.

"Our intent was to pretend marijuana was legal," explains Emery. "our motto
was "Revolution through Retail." We figured retail sales would pay us to
promote our point of view."

To find out where Marc Emery developed his singular world view, it's
necessary to go to London, Ontario, where he ran a used book store called
City Lights in the eighties.

Outraged that the Criminal Code outlawed literature that "promoted" drug
use, Emery unsuccessfully tried to get himself arrested by stocking his
store with High Times .  He also took time in 1984 to help found the
Freedom Party of Ontario.  (FP), an organization that remains the "only
political party that supports legalizing drugs," in the words of leader
Robert Metz.

The Freedom Party is small- it garnered only one to two-and-a half per cent
of the vote in the dozen ridings it contested in the 1995 provincial
election- but its presence helps explain right-wing support for
legalization. Like the split between social democrats and revolutionaries
on the left, the right houses at least two overlapping but often
antagonistic bodies: libertarians and social conservatives.

Social conservatives, says Osgoode Hall law professor and drug law activist
Alan Young, "tend to be motivated by what they call "family values." Their
general approach to drug use is that it's destructive to families and kids."

Libertarians, as their name implies, view individual liberties as paramount
and big government as satanic.  they also believe, as Metz does, that
people have the "right to intoxicate themselves with any substance... As
long as they're not harming anyone else, the state shouldn't interfere."
Metz, who thinks marijuana should have the same legal status as asparagus."
says his views are widely shared among right-wingers, but that most of them
won't talk about it.

The Freedom Party, however, feels so strongly about drug policy that they
offered financial support when fellow Londoner Chris Clay tried to overturn
Canada’s pot laws.  In 1995, Clay was hit with possession and trafficking
charges after an undercover officer bought cannabis plants at his store,
Hemp Nation.  With activist Alan Young, Clay launched a constitutional
challenge that stated pot had been arbitrarily placed in Canada's Criminal
Code and wasn't harmful enough to criminalize.

To fund his challenge, Clay sold $25. "victory bonds" redeemable for a
quarter ounce of pot once marijuana was legalized.  The Freedom Party
bought a thousand bucks worth of them.

Despite this support, Clay ended up losing his case- receiving probation
and a small fine- and anyway, it's doubtful the FP's assistance counts for
much.  Not only is it a fringe party, libertarianism has always been
regarded as suspicious by Canadian voters.

But libertarian arguments against the Drug War have been making their way
into some pretty major Canadian news media lately.  Last year, the Ottawa
citizen (with Neil Reynolds, former president of the Libertarian party of
Canada, in the editor's chair) surprised readers with a series of
editorials that endorsed legalizing all drugs.  The Citizen based its
arguments on a premise Metz or Emery would have no quarrel with: drug
prohibition is immoral because it implies that "free human beings are not
capable of making their own decisions about what they should ingest into
their own bodies."

Coming as more of a shock was the ultrareactionary Alberta Report
magazine's sympathetic cover story on Chris Clay's trial.  The Report's
story on Clay didn't quite come out and say pot is good for you, but it
editorialized strongly against the excesses of the Drug War.

As harsh as Canada's War on Drugs has been, we've got nothing on our
cousins to the south.  In the United States, you can lose your house, bank
account and driver's license for even minor marijuana offences.

The U.S. spends more than $30 billion on anti-drug efforts and sets the
death penalty for non-violent drug crimes such as large-scale pot
cultivation.  Back in 1980, about one in 15 prisoners entering state jails
had been charged with drug offences; 13 years later, that figure was
roughly one in three.  And most U.S. drug prisoners are non-white-- a
reflection of laws that call for federal penalties 100 more times severe
for crack cocaine (primarily considered a "black drug", than powder
cocaine(used primarily by whites).

As a result of these extreme policies, there is a far more radical reaction
against the Drug war in the U.S. than anything you'd find in Canada.  Take
judge Jim Gray a conservative Republican in Orange County, California.
Judge Gray wants to allow the' sale of marijuana, heroin, and cocaine In a
"strictly controlled, regulated fashion" to adults.

The products would be sold in pharmacies, wrapped in a plain brown paper
and wouldn't be advertised.  Such a regulatory system, says the judge,
would eliminate the black market for drugs, drastically clear court dockets
and jail space, and "drive the criminals out of the business."

Judge Gray isn't the only right-winger in America with these ideas:
libertarian economist Milton Friedman was talking about legalizing heroin
back in the seventies.  Ultra-conservative publisher William F. Buckley has
used his National Review magazine to publish pro-legalization cover
stories.  And a conservative comrade of Buckley's named Dick Cowan used to
head up the National Organization for reform Of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

Billionaire currency speculator George Soros has poured a small fortune
into American drug reform initiatives under the auspices of his
libertarian-oriented Open Society Institute.  The U.S. Libertarian Party,
which wants to legalize all drugs, has elected nearly 200 officials, and
former leader Ron Paul, currently sits as a Republican congressman from Texas.

For the most part, the U.S. Congress remains bitterly opposed to
legalization, but in Europe dramatic changes have been going on. Spain,
Italy, and Germany all recently decriminalized marijuana or other drugs.
France is contemplating wide-scale legal reforms and there is growing
pressure in Britain to decriminalize pot.  Even in the U.S., two states-
Arizona and California passed referendums that legalized medical marijuana
in 1996.  indeed, Young insists he's seen "greater movement (toward
legalizing drugs) in the past five years," and many would agree with him.

This March, the Canadian government officially lifted a 60-yr.-old ban on
growing commercial hemp, the non-intoxicating sister plant of marijuana.
used to make rope and clothes, not joints, help was demonized for years
because of its association with pot.  the Liberals legalized the stuff
because of fierce lobbying efforts from an unlikely coalition of farmers
and bankers.  Farmers, especially those who grow tobacco, were looking for
a new, low-maintenance crop.  Bank of Montreal, which sponsored a pro-hemp
symposium in Vancouver, scented profits in the wind from a legal commercial
hemp industry.

And although the liberals introduced the extremely punitive controlled
Drugs and Substances Act last year, there was opposition.  Weirdly enough,
it came from the hidebound senate.  After the bill passed the house of
commons in the fall of 1995, it went to the Senate, where a legal committee
recommended criminal sanctions on pot be dropped.  This led to one of the
more amusing media stories of recent times: elderly Senators endorsing
decrim while their supposedly more progressive Commons counterparts offered
feeble excuses as to why it couldn't be done.

C-8 was made law without the pot provisions recommended by the Senate but
since then, it's been a Reform MP, Jim Hart of Okanagan-Coquihalla, B.C.,
who has done the most to keep the decrim debate before the House.  Last
fall, Hart put forward a private member's motion to investigate the
possibility of legalizing medical marijuana.  Motion M-260 would allow
people with serious ailments such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and epilepsy to
use medical cannabis without fear of going to jail.

Hart launched the motion after meeting with a constituent with a skull
fracture who found "marijuana was the only thing that offers him any
relief".  Asked if his support for medical pot contradicts social
conservative cant that all illicit drug use is immoral, Hart says, "The
conservatism I believe in is listening to the grassroots, responding in a
compassionate manner." He opposes recreational pot use but says most of his
fellow Reformers feel (M-260) was a worthwhile motion"

Alan Young is buoyed by these signs of conservative support, but bristles
at the notion that the drug reform movement's been taken over by
right-wingers.  "This issue transcends traditional political stances," he
insists.  "Anyone with the proper education will support decriminalization
or legalization"

The War on Drugs was started by conservatives , so the fact that so many
right-wingers are defecting from the cause might be a sign the battles
really coming to a close.  That's good news for people who worry about the
police kicking in their doors, but bad news if the kind of proposals
proffered by the right are actually put into place.

Currently, in both Canada and the U.S., the poor bear the worst brunt of
the Drug War; statistics show that they're far more likely to be arrested
on flimsy drug charges and sentenced to long terms than middle-class users.
 Libertarian reforms would end the police-state tactics that people in
low-income neighborhoods currently endure but wouldn't do much for them if
they got addicted.

The "right to self-intoxication" that Metz talks about comes with its own
self-correcting corollary: get stoned if you want, but don't expect free
treatment if you get high too often.  Libertarians would privatize health
care, including rehab, which means state-run needle exchanges, methadone
clinics and treatment centres offering low or no-cost services would no
longer exist.  Private rehab would still flourish, but how many street
addicts could come up with the cash for a high-priced detox bed?

Even if you could care less about the health and well-being of drug users,
public-health treatment programs make good fiscal sense.  Providing clean
needles to prevent the spread of HIV is a lot cheaper than treating AIDS
patients.  Even Margaret Thatcher recognized this reality, which is why she
legalized needle exchanges in England back in the eighties.

Offering free methadone, which heroin addicts use to ease the pain of
withdrawal, might seem obscene to non-drug users, except that methadone
spares everyone a lot of misery.  On methadone, opiate addicts are far more
likely to hold down jobs and maintain normal family lives.  Also, methadone
patients commit fewer crimes because they don't have to rob people to pay
for expensive smack habits.

If they're blind to the benefits of public health, libertarians also have
some pretty bad ideas about how a legal drug market might operate.  In
Europe, the model has been toward state regulation: the pot-head haven of
Amsterdam, for example, operates under strict government rules that
prohibit hash bars from advertising their wares, making sales to minors and
selling hard drugs.  In places such as Switzerland, opiate addicts can get
legal heroin, but only if they register and inject at state clinics.  These
kinds of initiatives- however successful they've been in eliminating black
markets and lowering crime and HIV among needle users- are anathema to
libertarians who view any degree of government control as an affront to
individual liberty.

"Never let the government regulate drugs," snaps Emery, "That's maybe more
insidious than keeping it illegal.  The government shouldn't decide what is
dangerous and what isn't." Emery believes the free market's more than up to
the task of selling coke and cannabis.

But one has only to look to the example of tobacco and alcohol companies to
realizes how problematic this is.  Until very recently, both industries
have taken a completely hands-off attitude to the potential harms of their
products.  U.S. tobacco companies, in fact, denied for decades that there
could be any health problems associated with cigarettes. 

"I'm a little uneasy about heroin brought to you by Nike," says Neev
Tapiero.  "If someone were in a position to make money of heroin, it
wouldn't be beneath corporations to do it.."

Tapiero lives in Toronto and acts as spokesperson for the Medical Marijuana
Centeres on Ontario, an above-ground but highly illegal collective of pot
clubs.  He supports the legalization of all drugs- provided the government
plays a role in how they're sold- and an extensive social-services net.
primarily concerned with getting medical pot to his clients, not arguing
about ideology, Tapiero insists drug policy reform is "not a left-wing or a
right-wing issue." 

Patrick Basham agrees.  "On this issue, we might find our greatest allies
on what used to be the traditional left."

Combine the left's traditional support for the disadvantaged with the
right's mistrust of ill-considered state spending and you could have a
powerful anti-Drug War mix.  But you'd also have a very tenuous one: the
legalizers might unite, but that's only because the War on Drugs is such a
clear and present danger that reformers would be foolish not to seek
alliances.  Once it's over it's doubtful all the various advocates of
legalization could agree on the terms of withdrawal.

The choices range from well-regulated access to narcotics and widespread,
accessible treatment, to a laissez-faire model where the free market rules
and government does nothing.  Drug peace, orderly distribution and good
health care, or the right to pursue individual happiness with a syringe and
no safety net for burnouts.  In the end, the real problem might not be in
ending the Drug War, but in securing the most humane peace. 
- ---
Checked-by: Richard Lake